Losing my best friend to cancer led me to a career in science

By Hailey Skonhovd

Hailey Skonhovd, research technologist

Hailey Skonhovd is a research technologist in the Pathology Department.

When I was a teenager, I lost my best friend to the bone cancer osteosarcoma. It’s been 13 years since Maegan’s death—I remember the movie nights in her hospital bed, the times when she received good news and the days when she learned of bad news.

My curiosity and problem-solving skills led me to science. Being with her for the journey gave me a unique perspective and changed me forever. I wanted to do something to help others and inspire hope. I had all the motivation I needed.

When Maegan lost her battle with cancer, I knew I had to be part of something bigger. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is the right place for me to do that. I don’t think there’s a better setting for research.

St. Jude has an incredible model that encourages a team-minded, collaborative spirit where research translates to patient care. I work in the Pathology Department for Mondira Kundu, MD, PhD, as a lab manager and research technologist. The cancers and diseases we study affect the children we see every day throughout the hospital.

It’s a unique gift to be able to grow, learn and work in a place with a mission so close to my heart. In my free time, I’ve been fortunate to volunteer for many patient events and activities. Interacting with our patients refuels and refocuses me. It’s incredibly fulfilling.

My inner-nerd loves problem solving and loves to be a part of creating the cure. I love that you can make a difference at the bench, and it will eventually translate to the bedside.

In February, I celebrated my second anniversary at St. Jude. February also marks other milestones—St. Jude opened in February 1962, and we observe World Cancer Day February 4. The month is bittersweet because I celebrate Maegan’s birthday, but I also remember the day she passed away.

Maegan and her life inspired me and helped me write my story. I want to honor her memory and her dream for other kids to have hope for healing. I love the work I do—we hope our efforts will help patients to have a chance at a healthy life beyond their diseases.

If someone is excited and passionate about a task, it doesn’t feel so much like work. At St. Jude, I feel more like I’m fulfilling a purpose than doing a job.

Whether an experiment succeeds or fails, the science has a smile, a face and a family behind it. As a researcher, it’s humbling to think about the scientific heroes and collaborators who walk the hallways of St. Jude each day. I believe the true heroes are our brave, resilient and powerful patients and their families.

Hailey Skonhovd is a research technologist in the Pathology Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In her spare time, she volunteers for a variety of events and activities for St. Jude patients.

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